Category Archives: Tank car puncture velocity

VALLEJO TIMES-HERALD: Valero’s crude-by-rail project turned down in Benicia

Repost from the Vallejo Times-Herald

Valero’s crude-by-rail project turned down in Benicia

By Matthew Adkins, 09/20/16, 9:54 PM PDT
Anti-Valero supporters wave sunflowers as Benicia’s crude by rail project was denied Tuesday evening by council members in Benicia City Hall.
Anti-Valero supporters wave sunflowers as Benicia’s crude by rail project was denied Tuesday evening by council members in Benicia City Hall. Matthew Adkins — Times-Herald

BENICIA >> Environmentalists hoping to defeat Benicia’s crude-by-rail project scored a huge victory Tuesday night, handing Valero Refining Company a significant defeat in the process.

In a unanimous decision from Mayor Elizabeth Patterson and Benicia City Council, Valero’s application for a conditional use permit for a crude oil off-loading facility was denied.

Vicki Dennis, who moved to Benicia two years ago, was one of many present at City Hall and said she was “just delighted” with the decision.

“I’m so proud of this city,” Dennis said. “Our council people are very thoughtful. This process has been a long one, but I think they handled it in a wonderful way.”

The City of Benicia’s Planning Commission first began considering the issue in December 2012 when the refinery submitted an application seeking permission to build infrastructure to bring two 50-car trains a day carrying up to 70,000 barrels of North American crude oil into Benicia.

In March, the Planning Commission voted unanimously to deny the application and to not certify an accompanying environmental impact report. The decision was made against the recommendation of city staff who said the project’s involvement with rail-related issues made the decision a federal issue.

Valero representatives submitted an appeal looking to reverse the commission’s decision to deny their application, and the matter was postponed until Sept. 20.

As part of the appeal, Valero sought a declaratory order from the Surface Transportation Board on the issue of federal preemption in regards to the project.

During this time, many governmental agencies, private organizations and individuals publicly opposed the city council’s decision to transfer authority on the matter to the federal government.

At the city council meeting Tuesday, however, public comment on the topic was officially closed.

“We are eager to hear from you about any item that is not on the agenda,” Patterson said. “I know it’s a little difficult right now. We have an item on the agenda that I know a lot of you are interested in, but there is no public comment on that tonight.”

This drew a few hushed laughs from the crowd of approximately 150 people who had shown up to witness the landmark decision at Benicia City Hall.

Mayor Patterson’s warning didn’t stop a few concerned citizens from indirectly talking about the issue.

“I originally put in my request to speak before I knew you were not accepting public comments about Valero,” said one man. “If the council decides to change their mind and re-open public comment on the issue, I would be glad to come back up and speak.”

“Since I can’t talk about what the Surface Transportation Board has just done, I would urge the council to support the struggle against the Dakota Access pipeline,” said another man.

After public comment was closed, a brief recap of the project’s journey though Benicia’s civic system was put forth along with two resolution findings, one for approval and the other for denial,

The denial resolution highlighted specific issues that city council members had with Valero’s proposed project, including the unclear traffic impacts of having an unregulated shipment schedule, spill risks associated with shipping by rail and the project’s uncomfortable proximity to the city’s waterways.

Before making a judgement, Council members took turns voicing their concerns about health, safety and the project’s effect on the environment.

“When we first started considering this, there seemed to be little risk involved,” said Councilwoman Christina Strawbridge. “After four years, the community has endured numerous public hearings with hundreds of people speaking about the project. During this time, there have been 13 derailments around the country involving multiple carriers.

“The derailment in Oregon was a game-changer for me,” she continued. “Union Pacific was the same carrier and the railroad cars involved were the same ones Valero is offering. The strongest car didn’t withstand a puncture and crude oil came in contact with fire and burned for 13 hours. Union Pacific failed to maintain its track, resulting in its derailment. The railroad industry has not kept up with safety standards regarding the transportation of crude. I’m going to vote to deny the project in hopes that the community can begin to heal after such a divided process.”

After the council’s comments, Councilmember Tom Campbell put forward a motion to deny, and was seconded by Patterson.

A quick vote was taken and the motion to deny Valero’s presence in Benicia was decided.

Misao Brown, a retired teacher and environmental activist from Alameda, was thrilled with the council’s decision and was seen embracing her friends outside of Benicia City Hall.

“If there were any spills where we are in Benicia, it would be in the Bay and go all over the place,” she said. “Benicia is concerned about the greater good and it’s just wonderful. It was really hard sticking it out for so long, but they gave every chance to Valero. In the end, we’re really talking about life on earth. So, when the decision comes through like this under tremendous pressure, I’m really grateful to every member of the planning commission and city council.”

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Railway Age editor blasts industry, regulators for failure to understand root cause of derailments: volatile gases

Repost from Railway Age
[Editor: I will take issue with the author, who discounts tank car design, track maintenance and other factors for continuing catastrophic oil train derailments.  But I applaud his highlighting of the importance of reducing volatile gases in crude oil at the source.  See an important related discussion on the difference between conditioning and stabilizing the oil.  – RS]

The positive legacy of Lac-Mégantic: Zero

By David Thomas, Contributing Editor, Friday, July 08, 2016

Three years ago, in the early hours of July 13, a runaway oil train exploded in the then-idyllic lakeside town of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, killing 47 people.

The investigation and ensuing cascade of regulatory measures severely disrupted the nascent crude-by-rail industry, caused federal authorities in Canada and the U.S. to condemn most of the continental tank car fleet, and turned the chattering classes against the railroads, amid a ruthless tarring by the petroleum lobby, for not “keeping the damn trains on the track.”

Lac megantic burningAfter all that, crude oil trains continue to derail and blow up; and the official blaming continues to target the railroads. The Federal Railroad Administration’s preliminary report on the July 3 explosion of four cars in Mosier, Ore., blames Union Pacific, citing sheared lag bolts and loose tieplates as the cause of the derailment.

As a trivial, background factoid, the FRA noted that the Mosier crude originated at Dakota Plains’ New Town terminal in North Dakota. The FRA did not mention that the doomed Lac-Mégantic train was loaded at that very same terminal, with crude oil fracked from the same Bakken oil formation.

Despite all of the regulatory agonizing, oil train explosions remain a clear and present danger, and not because of tieplates or tank cars.

The FRA reported that the four breached and burned cars were modern CPC-1232s, upgraded with full-height head shields and insulated metal jackets. Such upgraded cars are approved for use by the FRA, which remarked in its report: “The tank cars involved in the derailment performed as expected in the incident based on tank car performance metrics.”

In other words, the new tank cars are expected to breach in a 25 mph derailment. In more other words, the entire mandated fleet renewal was a monster red herring that distracted attention from fixing the root cause of exploding oil trains: contaminated crude oil containing dangerous and entirely unnecessary concentrations of explosive gases.

The solution, by now, is achingly obvious. Volatile crude should be heat-treated to remove explosive and corrosive gases (as is done routinely in Texas). Alberta bitumen should neither be diluted with naptha to ease its flow into and out of tank cars, nor juiced with hydrogen to boost its otherwise dismal energy value.

None of those measures has been implemented by Canada or the U.S. Instead, the obvious factor of crude oil volatility in oil train explosions has been shunted off to the U.S. Department of Energy for years of study that will eventually prove the validity of high school chemistry. The unnecessary presence of propane, butane, naptha and hydrogen converts barely flammable crude oil into a volatile explosive.

Losers:

• The honor of rail and hazmat regulators and elected politicians in Canada and the U.S., for their utter failure to address the known root cause of oil train explosions.

• The railroads, for allowing themselves to be painted as perpetrators of oil train explosions, instead of victims, forced by law, to haul demonstrably unsafe cargo in inadequate conveyances.

• Three lowly railroad operating employees facing criminal charges for the consequences of following company rules against setting automatic train brakes on a train, left unattended, with the engine running on a downhill grade.

• The sanctity of human life, for losing out to profit margin in the cost-benefit analysis of shipping incidentally (or in the case of bitumen, intentionally) contaminated crude.

Winners:

• The American Petroleum Institute, for convincing its well-paid legion of political hacks to blame tank cars and track bolts, instead of weaponized crude oil.

• Current and former Transport Canada executives, who escaped public identification and accountability for the still-unexplained exemption of a decrepit railroad from crewing requirements that apply to other railroads.

• Canada’s Transportation Safety Board, for continuing to survive as an investigative body, while defending its continuing failure to recommend that automatic train brakes be set when parking an unattended hazmat consist on a downhill grade—even when its Lac-Mégantic investigation concluded that setting such brakes would, very probably, have prevented the catastrophe.

Lac-Mégantic’s 47 victims died in the cause of maximized oil industry profit. Their deaths are unavenged. Those responsible go unpunished. The probability of future, entirely avoidable oil train calamities approaches the inevitable.

And that, three years later, is the legacy of Lac-Mégantic.

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STEVE YOUNG: What Benicia can learn from the Oregon train derailment

Repost from the Benicia Herald

What Benicia can learn from the Oregon train derailment

By Steve Young, June 7, 2016
Planning Commissioner Steve Young is running for City Council. Among the biggest issues in his campaign are opposing Valero’s Crude-By-Rail Project, diversifying the city’s economic base, modernizing the water and sewer system, improving the roads and maintaining the parks. (Courtesy photo)
Planning Commissioner Steve Young is running for Benicia City Council. Among the biggest issues in his campaign are opposing Valero’s Crude-By-Rail Project, diversifying the city’s economic base, modernizing the water and sewer system, improving the roads and maintaining the parks. (Courtesy photo)

On Friday, June 3, a Union Pacific train carrying Bakken crude oil derailed in the town of Mosier, Ore. Fourteen rail cars came off the tracks, and four exploded over a 5 hour period.

There are several things that the City Council needs to keep in mind whenever they re-open discussion of the appeal of the Planning Commission’s unanimous decision to reject the Valero Crude-by-Rail project. Many of the assurances given to the public about the safety of transporting crude by rail have been called into question by this derailment.

    1. The train cars that derailed and exploded are the upgraded CPC-1232 version promised to be used by Valero for this project.
    2. The train derailed at a relatively slow speed as it passed through the small town of Mosier. Union Pacific trains carrying Bakken to Valero will travel at speeds up to 50 mph in most of Solano County.
    3. The portion of track on which the train derailed had been inspected by Union Pacific three days before the derailment.
    4. A Union Pacific spokesman, while apologizing for the derailment and fire, would not answer a reporter’s question as to whether the Bakken oil had been stabilized with the removal of volatile gases prior to shipment.
      At the Planning Commission hearing, I tried repeatedly without success to get an answer from both UP and Valero as to whether they intended to de-gassify the Bakken oil prior to transport.
    5. A major interstate, Interstate 84, was closed for 10 hours in both directions while first responders used river water to try and cool the tank cars to a point where foam could be used to try and put out the fire. It took more than 12 hours to stabilize the scene.
    6. An oil sheen is in the river, despite the deployment of containment booms.

And finally, Oregon Public Broadcasting on June 4 had an exchange with the Fire Chief of Mosier, about how this experience changed his opinion about the safety of transporting crude by rail:

“Jim Appleton, the fire chief in Mosier, Ore., said in the past, he’s tried to reassure his town that the Union Pacific Railroad has a great safety record and that rail accidents are rare.

“He’s changed his mind.

“After a long night working with hazardous material teams and firefighters from across the Northwest to extinguish a fire that started when a train carrying Bakken crude derailed in his town, Appleton no longer believes shipping oil by rail is safe.

“’I hope that this becomes the death knell for this mode of shipping this cargo. I think it’s insane,’ he said. ’I’ve been very hesitant to take a side up to now, but with this incident, and with all due respect to the wonderful people that I’ve met at Union Pacific, shareholder value doesn’t outweigh the lives and happiness of our community.’”

When the City Council took up the appeal of the Planning Commission decision in April, Mayor Patterson and Councilmember Campbell stated their opposition to the project, while the other three councilmembers (Hughes, Schwartzman and Strawbridge) approved Valero’s request to delay a decision on this project until at least Sept. 20. There is still time for the citizens of Benicia to tell their elected officials how they feel about this project. I urge them to do so.

Steve Young, a member of the Benicia Planning Commission, is running for the Benicia City Council in November.

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